As Sunday liquor ban is eliminated, liquor store owners consider impact

Worry about competition from big-box retailers, potential increase in costs, crime

By Laci Gagliano
Sun Post Newspapers

On Feb. 27, the Minnesota Senate passed a measure to repeal the ban on Sunday liquor sales, an historic departure from the law governing alcohol sales that has been in place since statehood 159 years ago.

The Senate measure, which passed 38-28, was authored by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona. A companion House bill authored by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, passed Feb. 20 with an 85-45 vote, and was reapproved March 2 to match the Senate version.

Gov. Mark Dayton has previously stated he will not veto the legislation.

The lift on the Sunday sales ban isn’t expected to go into effect until July, but some liquor retailers are already preparing for the potential impact.

Colleen Caturia, general manager of Robbinsdale Wine and Spirits, a municipal liquor store, said that while she’s not completely against the ban being lifted, she and many smaller liquor store operators are bracing for some changes that could ultimately force some stores to close.

“What seems to be happening is that the big-box stores can afford to be open on Sundays, but for the mom and pop stores, there’s going to be a financial burden put on them, and there’s going to be more of them going out of business than there already has been,” Caturia said.

Assistant manager Jen Olson said the costs of opening the store for an extra day are not likely to be balanced by an increase in sales on Sundays.

“For us, what we’re anticipating, at least in the beginning, is that we’re not going to make more money. A lot of our main sales that we had on Saturdays are going to be pushed and spread out to Sunday. We’re not going to gain anymore,” Olson said.

She and Caturia expect the store will need to hire at least two additional staff members, if not more staffers, to meet the store’s safety policy of having at least three employees working at a time. Both worry about offsetting the cost of those extra employees, including the pay and employee insurance.

Olson said she’s also concerned about competition from big-box retailers, including grocery stores that will be able to stock alcoholic beverages.

“If Sam’s Club, Costco, and Wal-Mart are going to start to push into that market, that means a lot of liquor stores may not be able to make it, and the money (those liquor stores) put toward their cities is gone. A lot of shoppers want that, it’s a convenience aspect, but they don’t stop and think about the consequences of what might happen,” Olson said.

Total Wine & More spent $170,000 in 2014 and 2015 on lobbying to lift the ban, according to data from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Competition from stores of that caliber is worrisome to Olson.

Aaron Pouncy, owner of Liquor Barrel Wine and Spirits in Crystal, also said most small liquor stores will profit significantly off of the extra day of being open and agreed there is a downfall to the repeal. He did not, however, express significant worry about how his store will fair, namely because he doesn’t expect a need to hire additional staff.

“The impacts felt will be different from store to store. In my personal situation, at my store, I don’t think we’re going to have any overtime concerns. Costs are going to go up, though,” he said. “It’s a low-margin, high-volume business, so every little cost hurts in the long run – it’s definitely not a good thing to look at increasing costs with a small revenue.”

While Pouncy said he’s remaining optimistic and trying not to worry too much about the future, he echoed Caturia and Olson’s frustrations about competition from big-box stores.

“Liquor stores are small business owners, usually community oriented. It’s always nice when people shop locally and keep money in their community,” he said. “(The repeal) might change people’s shopping habits to where they might start buying liquor, beer, and wine from Target, Cub Foods, Wal-Mart, or wherever they are on Sunday, because that’s a big day for shopping, period. Am I happy about the situation professionally? No. But there’s a bigger picture: The no-liquor on Sunday law was sort of silly anyway, and now that it’s finally changed, everybody’s just going to have to make adjustments. No one can predict the future, so we’re going to stay optimistic and are definitely going to make it work.”

Caturia described an additional layer of concern she said she and other opponents of lifting the ban have, which is the potential for an uptick in alcohol-related crime due to having an extra day to purchase alcohol.

“There’s a lot of health and safety issues there without even considering the number of stores that are gonna be put out of business,” she said. “Having to staff your store for the safety and the shoplifters, who’ve got one more day of crime opportunities.”

Olson said she believes there will be a slightly difficult transitional period that accompanies lifting the ban since alcohol is a controlled substance.

“There’s the (staff) training aspect, there’s the business aspect, and there’s the environmental and cultural aspect that opens up a can of worms,” she said. “It’s going to put a slight burden on the police department in general, not just in Robbinsdale but in the whole state. I understand that on-sale bars have been open for a long time in Minnesota, but it’s adding one more element to the mix. To some extent, it could ramp up law enforcement – a lot of nuisance calls, in regards to shoplifters or disorderly conduct, and even domestic violence. That’s always an issue with alcohol, and you’re just adding one extra day.”

“We’re not saying we don’t want the business,” Caturia added. “We’re just concerned with some of the other things we don’t really think were considered when they voted on this.”

Robbinsdale Police Chief Jim Franzen said his department isn’t anticipating a significant increase in alcohol-related crime on Sundays once the ban is lifted.

“From a non-alcohol related standpoint, with an extra day of the week open there’s more opportunity for theft, damage to property, robbery, etcetera, but that’s not necessarily because it’s a liquor store,” Franzen said. “As far as DWI and alcohol-related issues, I don’t know if we’d see an uptick in that or not. We find that when we arrest people for driving under the influence, usually they’re coming from bars. We don’t have any hard data as to whether Sunday sales would increase that.”

Franzen said the department isn’t planning to make any adjustments to the budget or to staffing to accommodate the Sunday sales. He said that the data required to show a connection between Sunday purchases and alcohol-related crime rates would be difficult to ascertain because it’s not always clear when or how a suspect became intoxicated and whether there is an actual link to the crime.

Minnesota was one of just 12 states not to allow Sunday liquor sales, and there have been few studies about the link between crime and similar repeals of Sunday bans. One study conducted in Virginia by the Journal of Public Economics between 2004 and 2012 did corroborate a potential connection between a Sunday liquor law repeal in that state and a slight increase in both minor and serious crimes, the cost of which was found to be roughly equal to state revenue gained by the extra day of sales. The same study also suggested that rates of intoxicated driving and domestic violence were unaffected by the change.

Caturia and Olson both acknowledge that while there’s potential for problems, they remain optimistic as well.

“We’re not sure exactly what to expect. It’s going to be a learning curve. Humans are very adaptable creatures. In five to 10 years, things very well may be just fine,” Olson said. “Rather than complaining about it or disagreeing with it – because I don’t necessarily disagree with it – we’re better off saying, ‘this is what happened, and this is our next step to hopefully making it a profitable day for us.’”

“We really do need to look at it as an opportunity and move forward,” Caturia said. “We’ll do the very best that we can to make sure that these issues are not a problem. It’s going to bring in a new dynamic, but I think it’ll all smooth out in the end.”

Contact Laci Gagliano at [email protected]